Rush-hour chaos may foil balloons on MTR

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 1996, 12:00am

CHILDREN'S foil balloons may be outlawed in MTR stations after a rogue Minnie Mouse balloon floated into a tunnel and brought rush-hour traffic to a halt.

About 100,000 commuters were forced to wait in stations on the Island line after the helium-filled balloon tripped an electric current and burned through an overhead cable.

The incident happened at 6.46 am in Causeway Bay, bringing all trains between Admiralty and Quarry Bay to a standstill for 11/2 hours.

The Mass Transit Railway Corporation said it was considering a ban on the balloons particularly during festivals.

But that would force the company to hire security guards to take the balloons from children, it conceded.

Operations director Bill Donald said the corporation did not want a reputation as a kill-joy and would try to find a practical compromise.

He said runaway balloons caused hundreds of stoppages each year, including 10 during Lunar New Year. Yesterday's was the only balloon to sever a power line, creating chaos and forcing emergency repairs.

Frustrated commuter Chau Yuen-ling said the Quarry Bay station was still crowded when she headed for work at 8.45 am.

'I rely on the MTR to go to Chai Wan for work. If I don't go by the MTR, it's very inconvenient; road traffic is too congested . . . But I am afraid the MTR has too many failures recently,' she said.

Power is normally restored within minutes of a cable being short-circuited by a stray balloon - but MTR investigators suspect the latest culprit had an unusually tough skin.

'Normally the balloons would be burned up by the overhead cables,' Mr Donald said.

The investigation will examine whether metallic balloons are being made more durable.

On Wednesday night, services were suspended between Choi Hung and Yau Ma Tei for an hour after a train broke down.